What to Look for in a Trade Show Manager

Thinking of hiring a trade show manager? The most effective trade show managers have a very specialized set of skills. Whether you’re considering hiring your own in-house talent or outsourcing to a third-party vendor, there are certain traits you’ll want to look for during your search to ensure you’re netting the best talent available.

Duties of a Trade Show Manager

At a minimum, trade show managers are responsible for getting your exhibit to the show venue on time and back again — preferably fully intact and without damage. However, for most trade show managers, there’s a lot more to the job than first meets the eye.

A trade show manager is ultimately responsible for anything that has to do with the physical display itself, including:

  • Display setup and tear-down — Setting up the display themselves or hiring third-party onsite labor that might be required for building complicated exhibits like double-decker or truss displays; ensuring the availability of electricity, power strips, and wi-fi, as needed; and making sure the display’s lighting and sound system, if any, are compliant with the venue’s regulations.
  • Packing and shipping — Coordinating with the shipper as to weight estimates, drayage, and the logistics of travel, pickup and delivery times, as well as specific delivery instructions per venue management instructions.
  • Storage — Ensuring that all of the components of the display are packed in the proper cases to minimize damage and storing the display in a climate-controlled environment either at the corporate office or at a local storage warehouse.

In addition, in-house trade show managers also act as marketing managers, taking on the added responsibilities of driving trade show and conference strategy, messaging, and creative; preparing budgets, sales forecasts, and post-show reports; booking hotel and travel accommodations for sale staff; managing the lead gen process; negotiating contracts with vendors; and more.

Desired Background and Experience

The ideal trade show manager candidate will have experience with all types and sizes of exhibits — tabletops, 10x10s, 10x20s, 20x20s, islands, double-deckers, you name it. Experience managing trade shows within highly regulated environments, such as large municipal convention centers, is generally preferred as well.

Since in-house trade show managers often attend the largest shows themselves and work the booth alongside the sales team, a background in your particular industry is preferable.

A certification in trade show management is an added bonus.

Personality Traits of a Good Trade Show Manager

In the trade show management world, situations that were planned for months in advance can suddenly turn into crises. Shipments get lost, flights get delayed, booth display components get damaged, and so on. The best trade show managers possess the tenacity to power through these catastrophes and still keep a cool head.

Desired personality traits include a meticulous, detail- and deadline-oriented mentality; a desire to proactively troubleshoot ahead of time; and the ability to think on their feet while deftly adjusting to changing circumstances.

When interviewing potential trade show manager candidates, be sure to ask them to describe a time when everything went horribly wrong and what they did to make it right again.

In addition to exhibiting the personality traits above, a good trade show manager will also be:

  • An excellent project manager
  • A strong problem solver
  • A good negotiator
  • An outstanding communicator
  • An independent and reliable worker
  • A skilled diplomat
  • A strategic visionary
  • A dynamic salesperson
In-house Talent or Outside Vendor: How to Decide?

Chances are, if you’re looking to hire your own dedicated, full-time, in-house trade show manager, your company likely has a pretty hefty trade show marketing budget as well as an aggressive exhibit schedule — say, two dozen shows per year or more, perhaps including international shows and conferences.

If you’re a medium-sized business and you don’t generally book that many shows during the year, you might try to hire a manager who splits their time equally between trade shows and other marketing or communications programs.

For small businesses with a limited staff, outsourcing to a trade show management service provider is often the most practical way to go. A trade show management service can take on the task of ensuring that your display is delivered to the venue, set up and torn down properly, and delivered back to your office or a storage facility of your choice – freeing you up to focus on other things.

What is your experience hiring trade show managers? Any advice to share with our readers? Perhaps a few words of wisdom to those considering a career in trade show management? If so, feel free to leave a comment below.

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